It’s impossible to talk about Mighty No. 9 without mentioning Mega Man. After all, they’re practically the same game. Mighty No. 9 is designed by Keiji Inafune, the man who created Mega Man and designed his earliest adventures. Mighty No. 9 achieved its (then) record-setting Kickstarter success by billing itself as a “spiritual successor” to Capcom’s long-neglected Blue Bomber. The game plays the same, the characters look the same – No. 9 (named Beck) might’ve been designed by Dr. White, not Dr. Light, but developer Deep Silver’s not fooling anyone.
Deep Silver’s staff knows it, too. During the game’s E3 demo, one developer explained Mighty No. 9’s dash move to a new player. The newbie, a little confused, asked, “Sort of like Mega Man X?”
The developer sighed. “Sort of,” he said.
And in large part, that’s the point – fans wanted another Mega Man game, and Inafune promised to give them one. Ultimately, however, that could be a problem. Mega Man’s last two entries had NES-style graphics for a reason; Mighty No. 9 isn’t competing against its 8-bit predecessor, it’s competing against nostalgia. If the game doesn’t live up to fans’ memories of Mega Man – not necessarily the games themselves – it’s not going to go over well.
However, after about an hour with Mighty No. 9’s E3 demo, it looks like Deep Silver has things pretty much in hand. Like Mega Man, Beck absorbs enemies’ abilities. Levels can be played in any order, but one path is better than the others; every boss is weak against another boss’ ability (defeated bosses will also help out in certain levels). There’s some platforming, which involves dodging flurries of enemy projectiles (and enemies themselves) while timing shots so that they land at just the right moment. Visually, the game has a bright sci-fi aesthetic that recalls Mega Man X.
But Mighty No. 9 isn’t a pure Mega Man experience, either. For one, while Mighty No. 9 can get pretty tough, it’s not as brutal and unforgiving as classic Mega Man titles – at least, not the levels on display. Levels are filled with checkpoints, and the stages aren’t nearly as long as Mega Man’s (or, maybe because they’re easier, they just don’t feel as long). When things get chaotic, sometimes it’s easier to just suck up the damage and use brute force to push through. While lives are a limited commodity, and a Game Over resets any checkpoints, it’s often easier to go on damaged than waste time trying to navigate a particularly tricky section (of course, the game can be made much more challenging with its one-hit death mode).
The other big difference between Mega Man and Mighty No. 9 is the game’s speed. Mighty No. 9 moves a lot faster than Mega Man, thanks almost entirely to Beck’s dash mechanism. After an enemy takes a certain amount of damage, it changes color and starts flashing. Pressing a button makes Beck jump horizontally (even while in mid-air); if he hits a wounded enemy during a dash, the baddie’s destroyed instantly. The faster that Beck dashes into a wounded enemy, the more points he gets; in fact, the only way to get combos going is to hit enemies for 100% damage. Miss once, and the combo meter restarts.
The dash also figures prominently in Mighty No. 9’s platforming challenges, and it’s a key factor in boss fights. Beck whittles away boss’ health until they’re wounded, but in order to make the damage stick, Beck needs to hit them with a dash as soon as possible. Delay, and some of that health comes back.
This fundamentally changes the pace of the game. Beck dashes constantly – doing otherwise completely ruins the combo system – leading to a fairly relentless push forwards. As one developer said, when a really skilled player takes control, Beck’s feet never hit the ground. After every level, Mighty No. 9 gives players a letter grade; anyone who wants the top score better get used to dashing all of the time.
Whether or not the change of pace is good or bad depends on the players’ expectations. For what it’s worth, we really liked it – Mighty No. 9 feels familiar, but it isn’t just a clone of Inafune’s past classics, and that was enough to make the hour-long playthrough whiz by (in fact, we were so engrossed in the game that a Deep Silver representative had to politely kick us out of the room). Fans who expect a pure Mega Man experience won’t be as pleased, and should probably stick with Capcom’s upcoming Mega Man Legacy Collection.
But look, while those games are great, they’ve been around for years. Mighty No. 9 isn’t just an off-brand sequel; it’s a game that takes something new and wraps it in something familiar. The end result is a blast: the mechanics are different, but the essence of Mega Man shines through, providing something for both returning fans and curious newcomers. Mighty No. 9 isn’t going to be the biggest or best game of the year, but anyone who’s got fond memories of the original Mega Man series should make sure to check it out this fall.
Mighty No. 9 comes out September 15 for Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U. 3DS and Vita versions will arrive later.